By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, July 2, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) and Alabama Attorney Genera Luther Strange (R) announced that the State of Alabama would be receiving $2.3 billion over the next 18 years as part of the $18.5 billion global BP settlement deal for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon fire and oil spill. While many of us were pondering how much of that can go to filling the State of Alabama’s General Fund mess, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said that the money should be going to help the people who were hurt by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010: the people on the Gulf Coast.
US Representative Byrne said in a statement, “I have serious concerns with today’s announced BP settlement. The oil spill was a real tragedy that directly hit families, businesses, and local governments on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and that’s why I believe it is critically important the settlement money flow directly to the Gulf Coast, not into other functions of the federal and State government.”
Rep. Byrne said, “When Congress passed the RESTORE Act, the intention was to create a clear framework to ensure local communities on the Gulf Coast have control over how the money is spent. Unfortunately, this settlement seems to steer money away from the RESTORE Act process and instead put large amounts of the settlement money under control of the federal government.”
Rep. Byrne continued, “Communities on the Gulf Coast are the ones who were directly hit by this tragedy, and it would be a mistake to hand control over the settlement money to the state and federal governments instead of our local coastal communities.”
$1 billion of the money has been promised to the Alabama General Fund in payments over the next 18 years. That is roughly $55.6 billion though the state and BP have not finalized all the details of exactly how that would work.
According to Gov. Bentley on the environment side, Alabama will receive approximately $1.3 billion over the next 15 years that will be used to facilitate coastal restoration projects in Alabama.
Now what exactly does THAT mean and how is that money going to be used? Can that money be spent on the $130 million Gulf Coast State Park Hotel and Conference Center that Gov. Bentley is so eager to build? Is matching dollars for the I-10 bridge a “coastal restoration project?”
Conservation Alabama Executive Director Tammy Herrington said in a statement, “It is vital that our legislators remember the intent of this funding. The money allocated to the General Fund provides an opportunity to protect Alabama’s state parks and public lands, which are facing devastating budget cuts and serve as economic drivers for their communities and our State.”
As recently as May, state officials were openly discussing closing as many as 20 of Alabama’s State parks.
Herrington said that as the legislature convenes for the special legislative session later this summer, our elected officials should consider this funding source as well as others that would support Alabama’s beleaguered Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Management.
Herrington said that, “Without projects that focus on long-term environmental recovery and stability, we risk losing the natural resources that are absolutely vital to the health of Alabama’s Gulf Coast’s environment, economy, and communities.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District where Mobile and Baldwin Counties bore the brunt of the BP disaster.